By Trenton Hale*
November 22nd 2013 marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. For a young college student in his or her early teens or late twenties, the memory of President Kennedy is not our own, but a memory passed on to us by earlier generations. For some young adults in America, however, the actions of JFK are still kept alive today.
The United States Peace Corps, established on March 1st 1961 by President Kennedy’s Executive Order 10924, is a program developed out of Kennedy’s desire to see young Americans serving the needs of foreign nations. Today, young adults in the United States continue to answer JFK’s call to service. This vision of service was first publicly delivered by Kennedy before being elected president. In an impromptu speech at the University of Michigan, Kennedy asked a crowd of young college students: “…How many of you are willing to work in the Foreign Service and spend your lives traveling around the world?” He would carry this idea with him to the White House, because it was not shortly after his inauguration that he would provide an opportunity for the students of the United States to answer his question.
Invoking the Presidential power of executive order—which allows for the president to, in limited cases of federal administration, establish policy without the need for approval from congress—President Kennedy ordered that an agency called the Peace Corps be established on a temporary, pilot basis under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of State. Though initially established by way of executive order, in September of 1961 Congress would add its approval of Kennedy’s vision by passing legislation that permanently established the Peace Corps and also allocated $40 million to the newly-created agency. That following December, more than 500 Americans would continue the momentum by volunteering for the Peace Corps and serving in a total of nine different foreign nations.
As we remember the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s assassination, in a particular way, we as college students have the opportunity to reflect on the “greater purpose” of service that JFK spoke about in his address to the students of the University of Michigan. We as college students may know peers who have served, or are serving in the Peace Corps. We may have classmates one day that will volunteer, and maybe some among us will sign up. Ultimately, Kennedy’s question and work lives on today in the Peace Corps—a question and a task aimed at college students.
Since its existence, the Peace Corps has welcomed over 210,000 volunteers and served 139 foreign countries, and the current average age of a Peace Corps volunteer is 28.